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Funding questions remain for project

Larry Kline

Havre Daily News

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An architectural firm has presented community members with a master plan for the Hill County Fairgrounds, one that changes the location of a proposed special events center and moves the rodeo grounds east of their present spot.

Funding for the proposed improvements still remains a question. The Hill County Commission recently told committee members that a possible bond issue on the November ballot would bring in no more than $6 million, due to a cap on the county's bond capacity.

In the plan, the special events center has been moved south and is now oriented north/south. Previous plans had its doors facing to the east and west. A parking lot is planned for the rodeo grounds' current location. A proposed visitor/cultural center remains in its original planned location, near U.S. Highway 2 in the northwest corner of the grounds.

Special events committee members and Great Northern Fair Board members said Monday that the plan is a good compromise that will provide enough elbow room for each entity working to improve the fairgrounds.

Committee co-chair Craig Tilleman said members agreed on the plan in a December meeting attended by fair board members.

“I think we came up with a good compromise,” Tilleman said Monday during the committee's monthly meeting. “I like this plan better than any of the previous ones.”

Tilleman said the new location for the special events center offers more stable ground for construction.

Marty Byrnes, an architect with Great Falls-Based CTA Architects & Engineers who drew up the plan, will meet with committee members next month to give a detailed breakdown of costs associated with the improvements at the fairgrounds.

Committee members have been working with an estimate of about $15 million for the special events center. Preliminary estimates for the visitor/cultural center put its cost between $2.4 million and $3 million.

The groups pushing for the special events center, the visitor/cultural center and the other improvements at the fairgrounds, which include new grandstands, a new chuckwagon and other improvements, are each fundraising separately while coordinating their efforts.

The special events center committee has raised more than $40,000 from local contributions, and the state has ponied up about $30,000. State and local money was used to fund a feasibility study for the proposed 6,000-seat arena and the master plan for the fairgrounds.

Hill County Commission chair Kathy Bessette on Friday submitted a $5 million federal appropriations request to U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., for construction of the special events center. Similar requests will be submitted to the offices of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss said Monday.

Committee members had discussed at length a November bond issue that could fund a major portion of the fairgrounds improvements. Voters may still get the chance to affirm or reject a major dose of funding for the center, but committee members will now have to raise a more significant amount of money for the project.

County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today the county has decided to offer $6 million of its $10 million bonding capacity for the project. The remainder would be kept in reserve, he added.

The state Legislature in 2003 made a “fairly major change” in the way county bonding capacities are calculated, Kaercher said. That change dropped Hill County's bond ceiling from about $18 million to about $10 million, he said. The county would likely never have been able to reach the $18 million limit anyway, he added.

“All it did was make it more realistic,” Kaercher said.

Tuss said the groups working on the improvements will be better able to prioritize their efforts once Byrnes comes back with the cost estimates.

“We've got to make some hard funding decisions,” Tuss said. “We've got a lot of hurdles between now and the finish line.”

Stockman Bank president Chuck Wimmer, who chairs the finance subcommittee for the special events center, said it would be difficult for volunteer committee members to coordinate a multimillion dollar fundraising effort.

Tilleman and committee co-chair Brent Reber said now is the time to start gathering a list of charities and foundations who may donate to the improvements.

“We don't know what we can fund until we start a campaign,” Reber said.

 

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